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Summer in Provence

Believe it or not, our upcoming trip to Paris was one of the most difficult getaways we’ve ever planned, simply because there was so much in France we wanted to see! When we first began laying out a general itinerary, Joe and I both hoped we’d be able to split half of our time in Paris, and half of it in Provence.

[I also slyly mentioned that we would still need to return to visit the Loire Valley, Bordeaux, the Basque region near Biarritz, and that, under no circumstances, could we leave this planet having never tasted oysters from Belon. Joe’s response: We can’t spend every vacation for the next 4 years in France! Me: Whyyyyyy?)]

The only problem? For this trip, we only had 9 full days in La Belle France. If we did the bi-regional trip, stays would be somewhat short in both places, which sounded less fun. If there’s one thing we both hate on a vacation, it’s feeling rushed, and like we got no sense of what a place is all about. I’m lucky that like me, Joe prefers to kind of park it in one place and hang out when he travels, spending as much time as possible getting to know it and just being.

So with heavy hearts, we had to forgo Provence this time. Having never been to France, we both figured Paris would be a great place to start (and spend nearly a week and a half!). Still, I think we were bummed that we wouldn’t be playing boules and sipping on pastis in Aix, or stuffing our faces with bouillabaisse in Marseille.

Another time, another trip. But make no mistake — not having the south of France on our itinerary has certainly NOT kept me from dreaming about it! (Recipe after the jump)

With Provence in mind, I made another version of my Provençal Chicken this week. Simply put, this dish (and every iteration of it) is one of my absolute favorite weeknight meals, because it is so easy and so flavorful. Often, I think people hear the word “braise” and automatically assume they’re in for hours of cookery. With chicken legs, all you need is about an hour, and they’re perfectly tender.

I’m pretty sure that this recipe is similar to another I previously published, but that should tell you how much I love this dish. I’m cooking it all the time! Besides the fact that each time you make it, it tastes a little different. Perhaps it’s the day, the chicken, or even the San Francisco version of le mistral — that ever-present summer fog.

Early Summer Provençal Chicken

Serves 2, with leftovers

  • 3 organic whole chicken legs (skin on and bone in)
  • 1/4 cup all purpose flour, seasoned with 1 1/2 tsp of garlic powder, and 1/2 tsp each of salt and pepper
  • 1/8 cup canola oil
  • 1/8 cup extra virgin olive oil + 2 tbsp
  • 1 medium yellow onion, julienne
  • 1 carrot, peeled and medium diced
  • 5 cloves of garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 1 tbsp tomato paste
  • 2 tsp crushed red pepper flake
  • 2 cups dry white wine (I used inexpensive sauvignon blanc)
  • 4 small cluster tomatoes, cut into quarters or sixths (leave skin and seeds on)
  • 1 1/2 tbsp granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup pitted olives, halved or roughly chopped (but not too small) (NOTE: do not used canned black ones — use brined mixed olives from an olive bar, such as those at Whole Foods)
  • handful thyme
  • –salt and pepper to season

Rinse the chicken legs with cool water, then pat completely dry. In a shallow mixing bowl or on a plate, combine the flour, garlic powder, salt and pepper, mixing together gently with a fork. Lay the chicken legs into the flour, and coat each side thoroughly (I did this one at a time to make sure each leg got coated well). Shake any excess flour off of the meat, then transfer the legs to a clean tray or plate.

In a large dutch oven or heavy bottomed pot, heat the canola oil and 1/8 cup of the olive oil until very hot, but not smoking. Lay the chicken pieces, skin side down, into the pot and brown — about 5 minutes. Flip the pieces over and brown the second side. Remove the chicken to the plate, and set aside.

Lower the heat on your pot if necessary — by now, the dutch oven should be retaining a lot of heat on its own. Add in the remaining 2 tbsp of olive oil, along with the onions, carrots and garlic. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Allow this to cook for several minutes, until the onions are just beginning to brown and leave fond on the bottom of the pot (along with bits from the chicken). Stir in the tomato paste; the heat from the pot should help distribute it evenly amongst the vegetables. Toss in the chili flakes as well. Cook for another minute, so that the paste caramelizes slightly.

Pour in the white wine, scraping the bottom of the pan to lift the fond off. Once the wine begins to simmer, toss in the tomatoes. Cook this for 5 minutes, so that the alcohol has a chance to burn off. Sprinkle the sauce with the sugar, throw in the olives, season with salt and pepper to taste, and stir. Taste it. It should taste pretty good, but like it needs time to meld. That’s a good thing.

Nestle the chicken in the mixture, so that it is about 65% submerged. Cover the pot half way, and let this cook for at least an hour. While this is happening, you can be like me and Joe, and enjoy a glass of wine and some cheese and crackers, and catch up on your day.

When the chicken is ready, place a leg on a plate, then top it with a bit of the sauce. This would be fantastic with polenta! We served ours with roasted asparagus, topped with goat cheese. Leftovers are great too — you can mix any of the leftover sauce with pasta. Just be sure to top it with plenty of cheese.

{Image Credits: Lavender in Gordes-AllPosters//Driveway-CN Traveller//Farmhouse-T&L//Cote d’Azure-CN Traveller//Marseille-Lonely Planet//Provençal Chevre-National Geographic}

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